I’m currently writing a novel loosely connected to two previously published pieces of fiction.
In some cases, chunks of text from both The Owl and Rain have been transplanted into the book. They might be changed slightly – the characters are different, for example, and have to be moulded to fit their new avatars – but essentially what I’ve done is cut and pasted segments of old into a new piece of work, feathering the edges to make sure of a true fit.
I have form, here. Blonde on a Stick contains a chapter that was an unpublished short story from the early 1990s. The Unblemished contains a character, Gyorsi Salavaria, and associative text that was lifted from a short story, Bloodlines, written ten years previously. That novel also contains sections from a short story, Outfangthief, from the same period. It was as if those old stories recognised something in the new stuff I was doing and called out to it. Or maybe that old stuff hadn’t been finished properly, somehow, and the newer me set out to do the material justice without realising it, until those old words started tapping me on the shoulder.
At first I felt as if this was somehow a cheat. Maybe what I was doing wasn’t right, that it was peddling yesterday, that it wasn’t progressive, a sensitive recycling. The reader might notice, causing him to realise he is involved in a process of reading fiction, pulling him out of the story: a grim scenario when we’re in this partly to capture attention. But for me, I sometimes feel as if the novel contains apertures, like those in a jigsaw puzzle, that the relevant, related sections form the short stories fit well, with a little massaging. It helps when influential writers do the same thing…
I spoke to three friends of mine who all work in a similar way, and it was interesting to get their responses in relation to why they go back to earlier work as a starting point for, or an adjunct to something new.
Nicholas Royle’s new novel, First Novel, is his seventh. He is also a prolific short story writer.
When I’m starting to think about a new novel I will try out certain ideas in the form of short stories. I’m aware that stories and novels are different things and I know that by the time it comes to folding these early thoughts into the novel they will probably have changed shape. Often, endings imposed for the sake of the short story form will go, and other, less visible work will be done as part of the folding-in.
Graham Joyce, author of The Silent Land, Some Kind of Fairy Tale and, soon, The Year of the Ladybird, does things a bit differently. His stories An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen (from Memoirs of a Master Forger) and The Coventry Boy (from Facts of Life) came into being after the novels in which they were couched had been completed.
I tend to be a bit too much fascinated with “stories within stories” structures (I blame Scheherezade) but I usually know at the outset if it it will work as a standalone. I might finesse the head and tail of the story to sell it as a standalone. The thing is the aesthetics remain untouched.
It’s an article of faith with me, part of a method.
(a) I’m an obsessive. I deal very heavily in repeating images & obsessive affects. No one complains that Dali or Ernst or Picasso used the same imagery over & over again. It seems to work for painters, why not writers. & of course you see obsessive repetition as technique in people like Ballard, Anna Kavan, many of the 50s & 60s nouveau roman authors, who were interested in breaking down narrative structures & looking for organisational methods from other kinds of discourse.
(b) I don’t see fictions as being discrete, or ever “finished”. Something which is totally itself in one incarnation becomes part of something else in another. I work by bolting bits together to see what they make. The boundaries of a piece are like those chemical sites on viruses that allow them to bind to cells; change the sites, top & tail the segment, & it’ll fit somewhere else, become something else. Guess I’m a structuralist. But I also think it’s a way of entertaining the reader by showing them your process.
As subject matter, I like the idea of contexts switching suddenly to become subjects, subject that flips to context; works well at the technical level too. I do test-bedding of novels as shorts, the topping & tailing of shorts so that they become chapters in novels, blog pieces that become bits of shorts, shorts that break up & get scattered as blog posts or tweets; but, really, that’s because any given component suggested all those possible relations during the process itself. If it’s fluid for me, let it be fluid for the reader. Nothing really “exists”: everything that seems solid in the universe is made of the dynamic relations between structures at the next level down.
So I see the whole thing as a kind of fluid momentum. Not as discrete products.
I feel I’m justified (and in sterling company) when it comes to refashioning some of that old material in order to service the current story, if it’s sympathetically done, and feels right. The work all shares the same blood, after all.
Thanks to Nick, Graham and Mike for their time.
In 1993 I started the novel that would become Head Injuries. It was called Dust back then. Heavily influenced by M John Harrison, Ramsey Campbell and Clive Barker, it was my attempt at a modern British ghost story. It’s a flawed novel, but one for which I have great fondness. I wrote it on an Amstrad with a 10″ screen bought from Morgans near Manchester Piccadilly train station. As I paid for it (I think it was about fifty pounds), the salesman asked if I wanted to upgrade to a 12″ screen for an extra tenner. I said I couldn’t afford it and he said not to worry. ‘There’s a free set of binoculars comes with with it so you can see what you’re typing.’ Chortle.
The novel is partly set in Morecambe, which is where I stayed while I wrote the novel (I was taking the Creative Writing MA at Lancaster University at the time). Much of what happens in the book happened during my stay, but I’ll leave it to you to decide what is fact and what is fiction because the book, for so many years out of print, is available again, for the Kindle. You’ll find it on Amazon pages in USA and UK as well as the rest of the world.
I pondered for some time about releasing the book in 2013, as it would have been fifteen years since its publication (the novel was published one day before my 29th birthday) but other than me, who really gives a toss? So I thought I’d get it out there now, before Christmas. And just for you, for being such wonderful people, it’s available at a low price for a limited period. Included with the novel is an introduction by me and two related short stories. Bargain.
I hope you like it. Drop by and tell me what you think!